On January 19, 1967, a recently completed segment of U.S. Highway 49 (US 49) in Mississippi made its official debut. This segment encompassed 16 miles (25.8 kilometers) between the town of Mount Olive and the community of Weathersby (now part of the city of Mendenhall) in the Magnolia State’s south-central region. The dedication ceremony for that four-lane addition to US 49 took place in the city of Magee, located about halfway between Mount Olive and Weathersby.
Approximately 250 people braved 30°F (-1.1°C) weather to attend that afternoon dedication, with Magee Mayor D.N. Yelverton serving as its master of ceremonies. John D. Smith, the highway commissioner for that section of Mississippi, was the principal speaker for the event. (In 1992, both the state’s highway commission and highway department became part of the present-day Mississippi Department of Transportation.)
The festivities for the dedication included music performed by the Magee High School band. After area resident Kay Kees carried out the ribbon-cutting duties for the ceremony, Smith formally declared the newest stretch of US 49 to be open to traffic.
Starting with its designation as one of the original routes of the U.S. Numbered Highway System in 1926, US 49 has been a key transportation link in Mississippi. The southern terminus for this highway has always been the city of Gulfport, located along the Gulf of Mexico. (The above photo shows the highway’s endpoint in Gulfport.)
In the decade after the opening of the segment between Mount Olive and Weathersby, US 49 continued to be built up to northwestern Mississippi’s border with Arkansas. This highway now covers about 334 miles (538 kilometers) in Mississippi; it is the longest of the state’s 14 U.S. highways. Starting in the late 1970s, US 49 has also been constructed in neighboring Arkansas. This highway now encompasses 182 miles (293 kilometers) in the Natural State.
US 49 remains a pivotal route in Mississippi several reasons. It was the state’s first highway to have significant portions expanded to three or more lanes in each direction. By the 1960s, US 49 and U.S. Highway 82 (an east-west route between Mississippi’s boundaries with Arkansas and Alabama) were the only non-Interstate highways in the Magnolia State to have four-laned sections. This did not change until the state government launched the Four-Lane Highway Program of 1987. This initiative provided funding for the development of more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of four-lane sections of highways statewide.
US 49, however, still has the distinction of being the only four-laned highway directly connecting Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson with the Gulf Coast. US 49 also serves as one of the leading hurricane evacuation routes for the state’s Gulf Coast residents.
Photo Credit: Brandonrush (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
Additional information on the Mississippi State Highway System is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_State_Highway_System
For more information on the history of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and its predecessors, please check out https://mdot.ms.gov/msdot100/